Gardening Style Ideas

Discover a planting theme that suits your unique design flair.
From: DK Books - Garden SXS
Maple Foliage Gives Vibrant Color in Asian Garden

Maple Foliage Gives Vibrant Color in Asian Garden

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Setting a particular style for your planting and layout helps to create a feeling of cohesion, and makes selecting plants and garden objects much easier. The main hurdle is making a choice and sticking to it.

Asian Garden

An authentic Japanese garden is difficult to create, and requires discipline and subject knowledge. It is possible to use elements from the style, however, to create a distinctive Asian feel. Minimalist lines, the use of certain plants, rocks, raked gravel or slate chips, and focal points, such as stone lanterns, prove effective. Colors are restrained, derived mostly from foliage; showy flowers are seldom used. 

The Asian garden's simple style requires meticulous maintenance. Keep raked gravel weed- and leaf-free: the garden should appear immaculate. 

Planting suggestions for this garden style include:

  • Acer japonicum (Japanese maple)
  • Camellia sasanqua
  • Ophiopogon ‘Nigrescens’
  • Phyllostachys nigra
  • Pinus mugo ‘Ophir’ 

Knot Gardens and Parterres

Knot gardens are generally small-scale and feature low, clipped hedges, usually boxwood (Buxus) but sometimes Santolina or lavender (Lavandula), set out in simple patterns. Between the hedges are blocks of color, normally from bedding plants or colored gravel. Parterres are more ambitious in scale and design, but they also use low hedges with colorful flowers and often topiary. Both styles of garden are highly formal, labor-intensive, and best seen from above. Be sure to clip the hedges 2–3 times a year to keep them neat.

Planting suggestions for this garden style include:

  • bedding plants, e.g., dahlias, cosmos
  • Buxus sempervirens (boxwood)
  • culinary herbs
  • Santolina chamaecyparissus
  • Taxus baccata (yew) 

Modernist Garden

The overall feel of most modernist gardens is one of simplicity and restraint, with planting often taking second place to hard landscaping, giving a minimalist feel. Plants are carefully selected and sited, with architectural specimen plants providing instant impact. The palette of plants is usually limited, with a restricted color theme, and maximum use is made of form and texture. Broad sweeps of perennials and grasses, often planted in a naturalistic way, provide summer color.

Modernist gardens tend to be naturally low-maintenance, but be sure plants are well watered, especially when they are establishing, and top off mulches of gravel or aggregates as required.

Planting suggestions for this garden style include:

  • Acer japonicum (Japanese maple)
  • Dicksonia antarctica
  • Fatsia japonica
  • Phyllostachys nigra
  • Stipa tenuissima
  • topiary shapes, boxwood (Buxus), yew (Taxus)
  • Verbena bonariensis 

Tropical Gardens

For sheer floral drama, few gardening styles can match a tropical border. These displays of exotic-looking plants, usually a mix of hardy and tender plants grown for both foliage and flowers, provide great interest in both summer and fall. Planting is informal, with plants massed together in profusion; huge bold leaves and vibrantly colored flowers predominate, while the displays improve as the season progresses. This style is labor-intensive, and displays usually last only until the first frost.

However, if you do choose this style, then plant out a tropical border after the last frost date. Feed and water well for rapid, lush growth. Ensure that you protect tender plants well from winter cold.

Planting suggestions for this garden style include:

  • Canna
  • dahlias
  • Hedychium gardnerianum
  • Melianthus major
  • Musa basjoo (banana)
  • Phoenix canariensis
  • Phormium tenax
  • Ricinus communis

Cottage Gardens

A traditional cottage garden represents many people’s idea of the ultimate garden. Planting tends to be informal, but contained within a simple, formal layout, which is usually little more than a network of paths. Flowering herbaceous perennials predominate, and these gardens are usually at their best in early summer. Later on, roses and clematis provide plenty of color, and in winter, well-chosen shrubs lend the garden structure once the flowers have faded. Colors are often soft and muted, giving a relaxed feel.

Regular additions of garden compost in spring will keep perennials growing well. Remember to divide clumps of herbaceous plants every 2–3 years for healthy growth.

Planting suggestions for this garden style include:

  • Astrantia
  • delphiniums
  • Dianthus (pinks)
  • Digitalis purpurea (foxglove)
  • geraniums
  • Philadelphus
  • Ribes (flowering currant)
  • roses

Contemporary Gardens

The contemporary garden is usually thought of as an extension of the home, a so-called “outdoor room” that often includes dining and seating areas. This modern and practical garden style often features expanses of paving or wooden decking, ideal for massed displays of brightly colored yet color-themed container plants in the summer. Beds tend to be filled with easy-care, usually evergreen plants, to provide year-round interest, and are often planted through a weed-suppressing membrane, topped with mulch to minimize aftercare. 

Ensure that plants are well watered while establishing. Keep mulches topped off, and plant containers when frost has passed.

Planting suggestions for this garden style include:

  • Acer japonicum (Japanese maple)
  • Astelia nervosa
  • Aucuba japonica (spotted laurel)
  • Photinia ‘Red Robin’
  • Choisya ternata
  • Clematis armandii
  • Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’

Next Up

Outdoor Living Spaces: Ideas for Outdoor Rooms

Learn about options and ideas for outdoor rooms and outdoor living spaces.

Year-Round Gardening Ideas

Plant ideas for all seasons vary in colors, shapes and design influences. Lean on these simple tips when planning for your outdoor area.

Urban Gardening Design Ideas

Learn simple ways to transform gritty urban spaces into green garden escapes.

25 Ideas for Fresh Garden Style

Bring vibrant outdoor style inside with evergreen ideas for garden-style decorating

Ideas for Small-Space Gardeners

Whether you have a a patio or a windowsill, start a thriving garden with these space-saving ideas.

Garden Ideas: Ideas for All Types of Gardens

Looking for garden landscaping ideas? Discover great ideas for gardens of all types.

England's Kings Were Gardening Fiends

Few can craft a topiary or fashion a yew maze with the zest and perfection of the British royals.

Perennial Garden Ideas

Get easy-to-follow tips for designing a beautiful perennial garden.

Small Garden Design Ideas

Don’t let size dictate style—pack a punch with your small garden. Learn ways to make your small space garden seem big.

Clever Container Garden Ideas

Creative DIY container garden ideas we’ve found around the Web